Passengers get first taste of Aircell Internet service

 - August 28, 2009, 6:18 AM

Business aircraft passengers are finally getting the chance to sample Aircell’s
in-flight high-speed Internet service as customer airplanes receive the hardware needed for access.

Midcoast Aviation in Cahokia, Ill., was the first to install the equipment, in a Challenger 605 operated by a Midwest flight department. That announcement preceded one from West Star Aviation in East Alton, Ill., giving word of simultaneous installations of the gear in a Cessna Citation III and Dassault Falcon 50. Other Aircell-approved shops are installing the equipment in earnest now that the business aviation version of the hardware is certified and available.

The Aircell in-flight Internet service is offered en route anywhere over the continental U.S., providing uplink speeds as fast as 3.1 megabits per second, or on par with a DSL connection. The service links through a network of 92 ground towers that operate similarly to 3G cellphone ground sites–except that Aircell’s antennas point up at the sky.

A pair of small antennas on the belly transmit data through an onboard ATG-4000 airborne telecom unit with integrated Wi-Fi. The hardware, weighing in at about 20 pounds, costs around $85,000 plus installation, Aircell says. The highest level of service, providing unlimited access, is $1,995 a month. Buyers who already have an Aircell Axxess system installed are eligible for a $5,000 hardware price discount and six months of free Ultraspeed service.

Aircell’s GoGo in-flight Internet service is available on more than 500 airliners, with more coming online almost every day. Airline customers for the Aircell service include American Airlines, Delta, AirTran, Virgin America, United, US Airways and Air Canada.